ASUS Vivobook 14 (X1404ZA) + Windows S Mode

No Windows S-Mode

I know that Windows S Mode has been around since Windows 10, but after purchasing a couple of Asus X1404 laptops, this was my first experience with S Mode. I am not impressed and fail to understand why any consumer would want to be restricted to Microsoft-approved apps from their app store.

The laptops are decent, with a 12th-generation Core i3 1215U processor, 8 GB of memory, and a 120 GB NVME storage drive. The 120 GB NVME storage is replaceable, and the memory is upgradable. 8 GB is soldered onto the motherboard, and another 8 GB can be added via a SODIMM slot.

My first clue to the fact that it was not a regular Windows install was that the CTRL—F10 keystroke on initial setup did not bring up the command prompt to type “OOBE/BYPASSNRO” to bypass the requirement for an internet connection and creation of a Microsoft account. Once I got into Windows, I found I could not install Google Chrome nor could I run CMD, and when I followed the prompts to go to the Microsoft store to disable S Mode, it immediately failed with a generic something went wrong error.

This makes me wonder if Microsoft subsidizes Asus’ budget-friendly laptops, blocking people from quickly switching from S Mode. Most people would not go to the lengths I went through to get out of S Mode and perform a clean install of Windows 11. I don’t understand the purpose of S Mode other than Microsoft wanting to keep you inside their walled garden. In my mind, the whole point of Windows is that users can install whatever they want, good or bad, without being locked into the Microsoft ecosystem.

In an effort to get out of S Mode, I created a Windows 11 install media USB stick and booted into the install after a quick stop in the BIOS. I found that the touchpad was not working, so I plugged in a USB mouse to start the installation, but I also found that the NVME drive was not detected. This forced me into an in-place upgrade from Windows. After completion, it allowed me to get out of S Mode, but looking at the available storage, I realized that something was amiss with over 60 GB being used; I know that a base Windows install should be around 30 GB, the reason for double that disk usage soon became apparent.

I discovered that I needed to install the IRST driver, which is downloadable from the Asus support website, to do a clean install of Windows. Multiple partitions, including a restore partition, appeared after loading the IRST driver in the Windows installer. I removed all these partitions and created a new partition using the whole drive capacity. I have no need to retain the restore partition, as I consider myself a tech-savvy person, being able to install the required drivers to get Windows up and running,

I installed Windows 11 Home, which, as expected took up about 30 GB of disk space; however, Windows 11 did not have wireless LAN drivers, so I had to source the drivers from the Asus Support website. I downloaded Realtek, Mediatek, and Intel wireless LAN drivers, copied them onto the same USB stick as the Windows installation, and let Windows find which were correct. On my particular laptop, it was the Mediatek drivers. I rebooted and connected to my Wi-Fi network, and like magic, after a few moments, Windows downloaded and installed the drivers for the rest of the devices. The only device that did not function correctly was the switchable number pad on the touchpad. This was easily remedied by visiting the Asus Support website and downloading and installing the Asus Numberpad driver.

Because of the S Mode bullshittery, I had to do additional work to get these laptops to where I wanted them, but I am happy with my purchases. Two 12th-generation core i3 laptops, with 8 GB of memory and 120 GB NVME SSDs for a little under $500, including tax, is a bargain, and my wife and daughter are happy with their new toys. And because there is a spare SODIMM slot and a 2280 M.2. slot onboard, I can easily upgrade the storage and memory should the need arise in the future.

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